The use of electric vehicles is for reducing carbon emissions, thereby reducing environmental pollution caused by transportation. However, the large-scale production and application of electric vehicle batteries have brought another notable issue, i.e., the production and application of these batteries also cause environmental pollution. Particularly, the precious metal materials used in the batteries are harmful to human health and the surrounding ecological system. Nowadays, many types of batteries are available. It is essential to understand which of them is most suitable for electric vehicles from the perspective of environmental protection. To answer this question, the life cycle environmental impact assessment of LiFePO 4 battery and Li(NiCoMn)O2 battery, which are being popularly used in pure electric passenger vehicles, are conducted in this paper. The research has shown that the two types of batteries show different environmental impact features in different phases. For example, LiFePO 4 batteries are more environmentally friendly in the phase of production, while Li(NiCoMn)O2 batteries are more eco-friendly in the application and transportation phases. Despite this, LiFePO 4 batteries are generally more environmentally friendly than Li(NiCoMn)O2 batteries from the perspective of the entire life cycle. In addition, the research results also suggest that due to the heavier mass, LiFePO 4 batteries can probably gain more benefit when used for energy storage.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are considered to be carbon-free, which helps to slow climate change, improve public health, and reduce ecological damage. Coupled with the increasing pressure to achieve the net-zero target, the global EV market has taken a huge leap forward in the past decade (Du et al., 2017). In 2019, the number of light EVs globally reached 2,264,400 units, which is 9% higher than in 2018. Take the world’s largest EV market, China, as an example, only 5,000 EVs were sold in the Chinese market in 2011. In 2018, China sold 984,000 pure EVs, which was an increase of 50.8% over the previous year (China Association of Automobile Manufacture, 2019). In 2019, more than 1 million EVs were sold in China, and the stock of EVs reached 3.8 million (Sun et al., 2020). These data imply that there will be more and more EVs running on the road in the following years.
Since batteries are the only source of power for EVs, the globally booming EV market means that a huge number of Lithium-ion power batteries (LIBs) will be produced, used, and disposed of in the future (IEA, 2020). For example, the cumulative installed capacity of LIBs reached about 206 GWh in China by the end of 2019 (MIIT, 2019). Among these LIBs, LiFePO4 batteries and Li(NiCoMn)O2 batteries dominate the market, but their market shares changed over time. The market shares of LiFePO4 batteries, Li(NiCoMn)O2 batteries, and lithium titanate (LTO) batteries were respectively 28%, 18%, and 21% before 2016 (MIIT, 2019). Since 2016, the market share of Li(NiCoMn)O2 batteries increases rapidly. During the period from 2016 to 2018, more than 80% of electric passenger cars in China used Li(NiCoMn)O2 batteries. This situation changed again in 2019 when manufacturers favored using LiFePO4 batteries to power electric passenger cars.